KPC Process Tech grads find work in weak economy

Posted: Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Stories about recent college graduates struggling to find work are hardly uncommon these days, but in the past year Kenai Peninsula College Process Technology and Industrial Process Instrumentation grads have done well bucking that trend.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Eric Simpson finished Kenai Peninsula College's process technology program last spring. Pictured at the college last week, he is working now as an operator for BP.

According to Jeffery Laube, assistant professor of process technology at KPC, they've had 21 students fill 25 entry-level positions offered by BP Alaska this summer.

On top of that, ConoccoPhillips hired five, and grads have filled positions with Tesoro, ConocoPhillips in Washington state, CH2Mhill, REC Silicon, ASRC, Udelhoven, IISCO, Schlumberger and others.

"I'd have to say that companies are starting to realize the quality they're getting from hiring from the Process Tech program," Laube said.

Laube also noted that several KPC graduates have found work with a company that produces solar panels, REC Silicon, in Moses Lake, Wash.

"I think this is going to continue to grow," he said. "As they develop the methodologies for green technology, the bulk of those energy producers are still going to need process technicians to operate their facilities. Process tech is not just oil and gas."

Laube noted hydro-electricity as well as bio-diesel as examples of green industries that also require process technicians.

Jonathan Mann, one of the recent REC hires from KPC's program, said there's a common misperception that the Process Tech program at the school is all about oil.

Mann works as an operator at REC in a unit that produces poly crystalline silicon using xylene gas.

The end product is used in a suite of technologies including computer chips and solar panels.

"You can go anywhere if you want to. Process industry is not just about oil at all," Mann said, speaking from Washington state this week. "This world runs on different processes from making boxes to cleaning fish to producing silicon and oil."

Mann, who originally hails from South Dakota, said he hooked into the Process Tech program at KPC through his own investigations and encouragement from family living in Alaska.

"They said everyone who went seemed to have a high percentage of finding work," he said.

That latter part was especially important.

"There's always those doubts a year in; are you going to find work with the whole thing down in the Gulf and there being a shortage in jobs because of the economy," he said. "The instructors are pretty hooked in as far as that goes."

Well connected as the program instructors may be, Eric Simpson, of Soldotna, said it's still a competitive world out there.

"You have to do well in school, have a good resume and have good interview skills," Simpson said. "It's extremely competitive, everyone is going for anywhere from 5 to 25 jobs a year with, say, BP."

Simpson was recently hired as an operator for BP Alaska in Prudhoe Bay.

He initially earned a business degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage, but was unsure of what I wanted to do with it.

"I heard from a few people about the Process Technology Program, and being from town it was an easy transition," he said. "It was a risk, but if you work hard it can pay off."

Simpson, who's 24, said that companies are not necessarily just looking for young grads by any stretch,

"Don't second guess the program because of your age," Simpson said.

According to statistics provided by the college, the Process Technology Program has been attracting growing attention from students over the last few years.

Between the fall semester of 2005 and 2010, the head count in the program at both the Kenai River Campus and KPC's Anchorage Extension Site has jumped 36 percent from 63 to 82, with semester credit hours mirroring that jump.

Yearly graduate numbers coming out of the KRC program dating back to the 2006-'07 academic year have held steady, ranging from 20 to 27.

When graduate numbers from the extension site are factored in as well, the program is showing growth in output over those years.

According to KPC Director Gary Turner: "Growth could have been greater but due to lack of facility space and full time faculty at both KRC and AES, we are at our limits."

Laube said he doesn't see the job market shrinking anytime soon either.

"I think this program is just going to continue to grow," he said.

Additionally Laube said that grads should expect to be able to continue to find work here in Alaska.

"A number of the North Slope employees are aging and getting closer to retirement and there's going to be a lot of room for people," he said.

Dante Petri can be reached at

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